Requirements for Naturalization

There are exceptions and waivers that a person may be eligible for, but the main requirements include the following: 1) Good Moral Character, 2) 18 years old or older, 3) Permanent Resident for 3 or 5 years (discussed below), 4) Physical Presence, 5) Continuous Residence, 6) English and Civics, 7) Reside in the District of filing.

Good Moral Character

The law really does not define what is “good moral character" but does define what is NOT “good moral character". It includes people who are habitual drunkards, those jailed for 180 days or more and aggravated felons. Note that “good moral character" is required during the proper time period. In other words, the standard applicant needs to be a Permanent Resident for 5 years. So, the INS/DHS looks back only 5 years to determine good moral character. However, serious crimes have no time limit. For example, if you murdered someone 10 years ago, you will never meet the good moral character requirement. If you have a criminal issue in your past, and wish to file for naturalization, you should definitely consult an attorney.

Permanent Resident

In order to meet the requirement for Naturalization, a person must be a Permanent Resident for 5 years, unless you are married to a U.S. Citizen for more than 3 years (your spouse has to be a Citizen for at least 3 years), and then it is 3 years. This date is calculated from the date on your green card.

Physical Presence

Physical Presence means that you have actually been in the U.S. Most applicants must be “physically present" in the U.S. for at least half of the total required period. So, if you are not married to a U.S. Citizen, and need 5 years of permanent residence, then you need to be in the U.S. for at least 2 ½ years. If you only need 3 years of permanent residence, then you need to be in the U.S. for 1 ½ years. There are some exceptions to this requirement for Religious missionaries or U.S. Armed forces.

Continuous Residence

Continuous Residence means that you have not left the U.S. for a long period of time during one trip. For most applicants (not married to a U.S. citizen), you need 5 years of continuous residence. If you are outside of the U.S. for more than 1 year, your continuous residence is interrupted.There are, of course, exceptions to this.

When to File for Naturalization

By law, you can apply no more than 90 days before your Permanent Residence requirements are met. Thus, if you are required to have 5 years of permanent residency, you can file after 4 years and 9 months.

English Requirement Exceptions and Retakes

There are 4 main exceptions: 1) age 50 or over and a Permanent Resident for at least 20 years-take test in language of your choice, 2) age 55 or over and a Permanent Resident for at least 15 years-take test in language of your choice, 3) age 65 or older and Permanent Resident of at least 20 years-get an easier test in language of your choice, 4) have a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment-need a doctor’s letter and need to file a separate form.

If you fail the English exam, you are usually given a second chance to pass the test within 90 days after the first exam.

Naturalization of Children

The Child Citizenship Act (CCA) says that if one parent is a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization, and the child is under 18, is a Permanent Resident, and is in the U.S. with the parent, they automatically become a citizen. Note: this law only applies if you met these requirements after February 27, 2001. Thus, if the child turned 18 before that date, this law does not apply. While the child becomes a citizen automatically, you get no proof of this unless you file for the appropriate paperwork. This law is somewhat complicated, so it is best to talk to an Attorney.

Unnecessary Delayed and Denied Application

Qualified attorneys can file what is called a “Writ of Mandamus" forcing the INS/DHS to complete the processing of naturalization if they have unnecessary delayed its processing.

If your application has been denied, you can appeal the decision within a certain period of time or you can re-file.

Citizenship Oath and Dual Citizenship

Once the interview is over, an appointment will be set up to take the oath for citizenship. Due to security checks by the FBI, this time can vary from 1 month to 1 year. It now affects many cases regardless of whether the applicant is a male or female or their country of origin.

Once the oath is taken to become a U.S. citizen, you may still be able to keep your original citizenship, creating a dual citizenship. Dual citizenship is when a person is concurrently regarded as a citizen of more than one country. The U.S. allows dual citizenship, but each country has its own rule on this.

Disclaimer: This article is not meant as specific advice regarding a person’s individual case. An attorney should be consulted. This article does not create an Attorney-Client relationship.